If you can, while popular media fills our feeds with the traumatic event at Las Vegas, try to remember the sounds. Try to remember the images that were shared while we all imagine what they must have been experiencing in that moment. What were they feeling? Who are they? Who are their family members, their friends, and their co-workers?

As a seasoned telecommunications engineer, it’s one thing to sit in front of a monitor pounding on a keyboard in a warm, comfortable, secure, and locked building. “You have no idea what it’s like,” declared some of the field operations people. To bridge the gaps where understanding was lacking between teams, management implemented an effort called “Walk-A-Mile.” In other words, walk a mile in their shoes.

They were right. I didn’t understand. Trying to walk a mile in their shoes for a day was not enough as a network engineer. It wasn’t pouring down rain, hailing, snowing, or sweltering with blistering heat. In fact, I never stopped to consider that they may also have to face gunfire. Because it wasn’t enough, I chose to spend more time in their shoes. That was how I met my husband. He was an RF Technician contractor and he was willing to teach without judging me based on my identity properties.

Make me a robot. Make me a robot. Make, make me cold.” – Tessa Violet

Accepting the opportunity offered through a contracting group to experience field operations with a large pay raise, I packed my bags after filing for divorce from my controlling and abusive partner. This was my chance to live their life and travel to places I’ve never seen before.

Excited about the job, when the flight hit the tarmac in Milwaukee, Wisconsin I practically ran to the rental car. My work partner (who is now my husband) and I drove to the first cell site. “Teach me the basics now while it’s the weekend so I can be prepared for Monday.” Little did I realize how much I would really learn that day.

Suddenly, FRRRRRRRRACK! rang through the air while we ducked behind the cabinets for a shield of protection listening for the hail of whizzing, “Fireworks right? That was fireworks?”
The first outdoor cell site we went to was in a remote farming area. As far as the eye could see to the horizon was farmland, two paved roads that intersected and the farmhouse where this site was built with a single silo. In telecommunications, cell sites are defined as shelter or outdoor. Outdoor sites are weather protected so there are no buildings.

It began to thunder with lightning bolts that I have rarely seen in Washington. Then, the downpour started which turned into hail. Turning to my work partner, “Are there a lot of tornadoes here?” The response was a silent nod. Looking out the window at the few cars passing, it was noticeable how much faster they were driving. Away from where we were at. After the storm passed and the clouds drifted on, the tornado touched land a mile away.

The second site we went to was inner-city Milwaukee. We had six circuits to prepare with more than thirty feet of copper CAT-5 shielded twisted pair cable to connect. We also had to install a cable that is referred to as icky-pick. Most technicians dislike it because it’s icky. It was fascinating to me while I wondered how this gelatinous sticky substance could be worked with faster and better. A single site with six circuits took us eight hours until I worked enough of them to figure out how to shave the time in half.

Icky Pic cable

Icky-Pick cable

Standing at a cabinet, while he worked the top of the equipment racks, I fussed with what I was trying to learn while my mind reeled with the process and how we could do it faster. The client would not be happy if our project timeline slipped. I was slowly learning why the guys complained that the project managers and switch engineers didn’t understand. It’s fascinating what images we conjure up in our minds to try to imagine what people do. We do not know what we do not know until we walk a mile in their shoes.

Suddenly, FRRRRRRRRACK! rang through the air while we ducked behind the cabinets for a shield of protection listening for the hail of whizzing, “Fireworks right? That was fireworks?” I squatted to the ground ready to lay down on the gravel. My partner looked around to assess the situation since he was high enough to see. “Yeah, I think so.”

Equipment environment cabinet
Equipment environment cabinet
We continued to work as I tossed around ideas to make easier work of the process. Quality first, not quantity. Communication lines will only be as good as the time and effort that a good technician will put into their craft with pride in ownership for their quality of work. If the quality is not there then there will be an effect that cascades throughout the network system.

What seemed like a half-hour, being focused on our work, the sirens in the distance weren’t noticed. We kept working towards our goal to complete our task. More sirens in the distance echoed through the buildings, bouncing off of every object until it sounded like a cacophony of emergency response. I paused what I was doing with the sudden epiphany of what I was hearing. Those weren’t just police vehicles.

Standing up to stretch my legs after working the cable through the cabinets, I turned around to see two guys across the street wandering to the corner. They watched me as I walked towards the gate to peer down the street and what was happening. I could hear them commenting and laughing about my sudden interest from my work, oblivious to the world as the events were unfolding.

Peering past the gate, at the corner from the site is yellow crime tape strung across the roads. It wasn’t fireworks. Turning around I calmly wandered back to the cabinet and my partner looked down at me. “That wasn’t fireworks. That was rapid gunfire. Someone had a fully automatic weapon and someone is hurt. We need to speed this process up and get this job done,” as I sat back down to get back to business. He nodded in acknowledgment with equal calm and determination.

When we completed the site and returned to the hotel, I laughed and shared that this was a hell of a first day on the job. If it was intended to expose me to all of the elements that I have never considered were a part of this role, he was successful. My partner marveled at how detached my emotions were. It was a result of several years of abuse and control from several people. It was a default nature after a lifetime of trauma from deaths of loved ones and friends. It was my defense mechanism that I had honed as a skill to pretend that I was okay, everything was okay while my family members, friends, and co-workers insisted that nothing I was doing to cope was okay.

Several of my male colleagues touted me as ‘one of the guys’. “She’s not like the others,” they claimed. I took pride in that. I was proud that I could take a punch to the face and not shed a tear. I shoved any feeling that was a threat into the cracks and crevices of my bowels. The mask that I wore to be like the guys were praised while others were shocked with my tough girl exterior as comments were made to marginalize my gender.

Happiness and anger were the only two emotions I allowed. Big girls don’t cry. If we want to hang with the boys and their toys then we better ‘man it out’ and tough it out. Other female colleagues hated me or were intimidated by me. I didn’t have time to deal with all of that emotional nonsense. Work had to be done and the perfection is demanded. “Grow a pair.” I was wrong. I was horrifically and inexcusably wrong. That’s why I care. That is not being an example for change. To lead people forward, I must understand my mistakes and learn from them. I’m not perfect but I am learning.